Nancy Da Silva stands in a kitchen, a pan and vegetables in front of her.

Coeliac disease

A happy dance over gluten-free pizza

When Nancy Da Silva was diagnosed with coeliac disease ten years ago, her life became a little complicated. The Micarna employee is glad that Migros has now greatly expanded its gluten-free range.

Andrea Söldi
What we do

Nancy Da Silva has brought her food from home. She warms up her home-cooked paella in the microwave. Corn and rice are currently available at the counter of the Micarna staff restaurant in Bazenheid – side dishes that the coeliac sufferer could technically eat. However, she simply doesn’t trust the food: “It might have been made with bouillon, or maybe someone switched the spoons while scooping.” She therefore usually only helps herself to the salad without dressing or the Vienna sausages.

The Assistant to the Executive Board of the Migros subsidiary Micarna pays strict attention to her gluten-free diet. This protein is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, green spelt and emmer wheat, but not in corn, rice, millet, buckwheat, potatoes or soy. Smaller amounts of gluten-containing grains are also hidden in many convenience foods such as soups, sauces, sausages, hamburgers, beverages and even toothpaste. What’s more, gluten-free grains processed in the same mills as wheat could also contain traces.

Ten years ago, the now-39-year-old was diagnosed with coeliac disease. “I had never even heard the term before,” she says, looking back. Although she was glad to finally learn the cause of her ailing health, she also felt very uncertain: “I wasn’t sure what I would be able to eat going forward.”

Psychological cause suspected

Even as a teenager, she often suffered from severe gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea and nausea, as well as nosebleeds, joint pain and extreme fatigue. Due to the severe nutrient deficiency, her general physician kept prescribing iron infusions and vitamins. At the same time, however, he indicated that her symptoms probably had a psychological cause. “I knew that couldn’t be true,” says Da Silva. “I was fine otherwise.”

Following a severe state of weakness, she decided to undergo a thorough examination by a specialist in internal medicine. A blood test and a duodenal biopsy finally led to a clear diagnosis. Her former diet with lots of bread, pizza and other grain-based products had already severely damaged the mucous membrane of her small intestine, hence the constant iron and vitamin deficiency.

Becoming an expert

The change in diet was difficult, says the Flawil resident. After receiving nutritional advice, she largely emptied her food cupboards and disposed of various utensils such as wooden boards. “My first shopping trip at Migros took two hours,” she recalls. She had to read all the ingredients on every product, some of which sounded like gibberish to her. Ten years ago, she says, there were hardly any gluten-free products available, except for some bread that tasted like cardboard. She therefore began cooking and baking a lot herself – for example with rice, potato and chestnut flour. Her exploration of the topic of nutrition practically turned her into an expert. She uses social media and her blog to publish recipes, recommend restaurants that understand gluten-free diets, and provide travel tips.

After all, she doesn’t let her diet stop her from travelling, even if the food situation can get tricky. She always keeps her own provisions in her luggage and often only eats cold foods when she’s out and about. It’s easiest for her in Italy, where many restaurants offer gluten-free pizza and pasta.

Production in a separate facility

Her partner and three-year-old daughter sometimes eat ordinary food at home, so Da Silva keeps her own food in a separate kitchen cupboard. The certified products are usually much more expensive than their conventional counterparts, she says. However, since visiting Migros’ Huttwiler gluten-free plant one time, she has come to understand that in order to avoid contamination, an extra production facility is needed with its own machines. Nancy Da Silva is glad that the range with the label featuring a crossed-out grain spike has now grown considerably. When she needs something quick, she can now even simply warm up a pack of spinach tortelloni. “And when I first discovered a gluten-free frozen pizza, I did a happy dance in Migros.”